Will Lippman, Bruce Haasl, Christie Oldright and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk in First Date. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

REVIEW: First Date at Harlequin Productions

THEATER REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS

Harlequin Productions’ First Date is a romantic comedy in the tradition of Hepburn and Tracy, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, updated for the digital age. Updated how? For starters, the search engine Google appears in the guise of a woman, and there’s a decidedly 21st-century attitude toward sex and language.

Aaron (Bruce Haasl) is a somewhat nerdy, shy, nice guy. He embarks on his first-ever blind date with Casey (Christie Oldright), a tall, sexy, artistic, sarcastic and worldly woman who’s a veteran of many blind dates, all of which were disastrous. So why does she keep trying? Why does he? Because her sister keeps cajoling her, as does her sister’s husband, Aaron’s co-worker. In other words, they’re set up. Besides, there’s always the hope that the next one might truly be “The One” (the title of the first song). Yes, First Date is a musical.

From this first rollicking song (performed by Haasl and Oldright with the ensemble and the great Harlequin band led by Bruce Whitney, we know what’ll happen. The mismatched couple will clash like Batman and the Joker until reluctantly discovering they might be just right for each other.

More so than at any other theater south of Seattle in the South Sound, Harlequin’s production values are top-notch professional. This is we’ve come to expect, and the cast and crew of First Date do not let us down. Jeannie Beirne’s lushly designed bar setting, lighted with style by Mark Thomason, is perfect in every detail, from the projection of city lights to the gorgeous blue behind a wall of bottles behind the bar to the portrait of a woman’s face on an old brick wall, down to the gender-inclusive restroom sign.

Haasl is perfectly cast as Aaron. With and without his black-rimmed glasses, he looks the part of the shy, out-of-his-element businessman who invariably says the wrong thing. In her sleek black dress and high heels (costumes by Jocelyne Fowler), Oldright looks the part of the haughty and self-assured Casey, and with subtle, nuanced acting she convincingly lets Casey’s softer, more empathetic personality emerge.

First Date is Oldright’s Harlequin debut, but she’s no newcomer to western Washington stages, having performed at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Tacoma Musical Playhouse and elsewhere. Local audiences will remember her electrifying performance as Maureen in Rent at Capital Playhouse. Haasl is a longtime favorite among South Sound theatergoers. He’s the quintessential romantic lead. Haasl and Oldright together are engaging and funny.

The ensemble cast play people who aren’t there (parents, a best friend, Aaron’s ex-fiancée) and the bartender. They are Kyle Henick, Will Lippman, Eleise Moore, Evan Sullivan and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk. Each is enjoyable and unexpected in surprise appearances as Aaron and Casey’s inner critics — like cartoon angels and devils sitting on their shoulders and tempting or remonstrating, usually infuriatingly so.

First Date is a Northwest original. It had its world premiere at Seattle’s ACT Theatre as a co-production with the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2012 before moving to Broadway the next year. It’s an enjoyable romantic comedy, predictable but delightful and thoroughly up-to-date in the digital age.

(This review appears courtesy of The Weekly Volcano.)

Please note: As of July 11, this show has been extended through July 29.

What: First Date

Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, June 22 – July 29;
2 p.m. Sundays, June 25 – July 23

How much: $20-$41

Get tickets: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions




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